Shaking hands, answering questions, touring classrooms, eating pizza in the Overbrook High cafeteria - it's been a busy first day on the job for new Philadelphia schools chief Arlene Ackerman.

Ackerman today formally took over running the 167,000-student school district, the nation's eighth largest.

She began her day at Fox Chase School in the Northeast, where fifth grader teacher Brandi Wright's classes had written her letters asking her to come visit them.

"I'm so excited to be here," she told the students. "Fifth grade is my grade. I taught fifth grade."

The students had plenty of questions for Ackerman, 61.

"Do you see yourself as sagacious," one girl asked, using a new vocabulary word.

"I can't even spell that word," Ackerman joked. "Yes, I would hope that I'm an intelligent person."

Next, it was on to Overbrook High in West Philadelphia, one of the city's largest high schools with 1,700 students and one of its older buildings, constructed in 1924.

Over pizza, fruit cup, a hot dog and baked beans - Ackerman paid $7.50 so she could try two meals - she sat with students and asked about their school.

Sheldon Baker, 17, was impressed Ackerman tried cafeteria food, which she judged "just great."

"Everybody here doesn't even like to eat it that much," Baker said.

Many students voiced concerns about problems with the building - no place to play soccer, dirty bathrooms, crumbling plaster.

"I was really saddened by that," Ackerman said, "but it's something we can change."

Ackerman earned her doctorate at the Harvard University Urban Superitendents Program and formerly headed the Washington and San Francisco school districts. She most recently worked as a professor at Columbia University.

She has already laid out priorities for her first 100 days, including flattening the district's bureaucracy, putting more focus on schools, promoting fiscal accountability, and holding all adults accountable. She will also have her eye on ensuring equity for all students, she said.

Ackerman also vowed to make the district more customer friendly, promising visitors access to her central office from 7:30 a.m. to 6 p.m.

She will earn a salary of $325,000 annually.

Contact staff writer Kristen Graham at 215-854-5146 or kgraham@phillynews.com.